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So What Do You Do, Roland Martin, CNN Contributor and Host of TV One's Washington Watch?

The TV, radio and newspaper vet talks building a brand

By Marcus Vanderberg - June 6, 2012
Love him or hate him, there's no denying Roland Martin's work ethic.

The man of a 1,001 jobs went from county and government reporter at the Austin-American Statesman to becoming one of the most recognizable and outspoken political commentators on television.

While being a CNN contributor would be more than enough for most journalists, that's just the tip of the iceberg for Martin -- he's also a senior analyst for the Tom Joyner Morning Show, host and managing editor of Washington Watch on TV One and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Martin's desire to juggle multiple jobs is all part of building and developing his brand. "If companies are able to have multiple revenue streams and have their hands in multiple pools of money," he told us, "then why shouldn't the people who actually work for those brands be able to do the exact same thing?"


Name: Roland Martin
Position: CNN contributor. Tom Joyner Morning Show senior analyst. Host and managing editor of Washington Watch on TV One. Nationally syndicated columnist.
Resume: Started as a county and government reporter for the Austin-American Statesman and city hall reporter for the Ft. Worth Star Telegram before transitioning into the black press where he won several local and national awards as the top editor for Houston Defender, Dallas Weekly and the Chicago Defender. Founding news editor for Savoy magazine and BlackAmericaWeb.com. Talk show host for WVON-AM in Chicago, news director and morning anchor at KKDA-AM (Dallas) and morning drive reporter for KRLD-AM (Dallas). Joined CNN in 2007.
Birthday: November 14, 1968
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Education: B.S., journalism, Texas A&M University. Master's degree in Christian communications from Louisiana Baptist University.
Marital status: Married
Media idol: Vernon Jarrett
Favorite TV show: The West Wing
Guilty pleasure: "Golf, golf, golf."
Last book read: SNCC: The New Abolitionists by Howard Zinn
Twitter handle: @rolandsmartin

Looking back, what are your thoughts now on your month-long suspension from CNN for your Super Bowl tweet about David Beckham?
First of all, my thoughts were the same then -- I was cracking on soccer and that's what I talked about. It happened, you deal with it and you move on. My deal is, if you spend significant amounts of time freaking out and going nuts, you'll simply go crazy. My philosophy is very simple: You keep it moving.

What did you take away from your meeting with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)?
We had a meeting, and it was exactly what we said it was in the press release.

Do you think the fallout over that incident and others like Ashton Kutcher's Popchips ad or ESPN's Jeremy Lin debacle leads to better coverage of minority groups or just confuses things? Are we becoming more sensitive or too sensitive?
First and foremost, in terms of this notion if we are becoming more sensitive or too sensitive, I believe context is everything. I think it's important for people to always understand what is the context is in what is being said, because that obviously determines what folks are talking about. That's first. Secondly, I don't believe the Jeremy Lin issue somehow improved coverage of minorities. Even though we are a nation that's becoming a minority country, we still have this view where everything is seen through the prism of the dominant culture, which really means white. We still are challenged with having diversified coverage, just like we are challenged to having diversified talent on the air, who are in critical positions on-air and behind the scenes, as well. Things are certainly getting better in a micro way, but it can be a hell of a whole lot better than what it is right now.

"What always cracks me up is when people want to come at you and give you attitude, and, when you return it, they want to get all sensitive about it."

You recently had a Twitter dust-up with Touré over the NBA playoffs. Has Twitter become more of a distraction than a resource for you?
Oh no, no. Twitter is a huge resource. Look, I had my own morning drive and midday radio show on WVON in Chicago. I also streamed it on U-Stream, and the beauty of that is you are able to communicate with people all across the city, all across the country, all across the world. What always cracks me up is when people want to come at you and give you attitude, and, when you return it, they want to get all sensitive about it. It's sort of like when someone calls you on a radio show and they want to criticize you; then, you hit them back and they get all sensitive. My whole deal is, "Why did you pick up the phone and call?" The way I look at it is some people can't handle the heat. My deal is stay off Twitter or don't respond to somebody. But, again, the beauty of the medium is that you're able to interact with people instantaneously when something happens. That's what I love about it. For me, it is a tremendous source for information. There's no way in the world I can read everything, see everything, so it's always great when people can send you something and say, "Hey, did you catch this?" So, that's what I love about it.

You've worked for several black newspapers throughout your career. How do you think they will fare against the mainstream newspapers and alternative weeklies? Do you think they stand a better or worse chance in the digital age?
If black newspapers are able to understand how valuable their niche is and if they are truly able to make the switch to the digital medium, then I think they can do extremely well... I always make the point that the mainstream papers could never out-black me. What I mean by that is it's not my job to try to compete with them everyday on the news of the day. You cannot win that fight. But when it comes to stories that are unique to our audience, I've made it perfectly clear that they can't beat me at my game. That means you got to have quality talent; you got to have the leadership that's going to do what's necessary. There's a place for black newspapers just like there's a place for Hispanic media, media targeting women. But those black newspapers can't keep thinking that the printed world is still going to be there. They have to understand that we are now operating in a digital and mobile world, and they must be able to keep up.

NEXT >> AvantGuildSo What Do You Do, Joel Hyatt, CEO and Co-Founder of Current TV?

Are you surprised by the lack of diversity on the Sunday morning news shows? Which minority talking heads should the networks be targeting for their programs?
I am not surprised about the lack of diversity on the mainstream Sunday morning talks shows, because the hosts of those shows, as well as the people that produce those shows, as well as the other staffers that produce those shows look the same as the guests they book. Look, this is something that's not new. I've said it before. Also, those shows are stuck in a time warp. Those shows are all so locked in on what's happening in Washington D.C., they don't have the ability to understand or think about the rest of the country. And, so, it bores me every Sunday when I see the same senators, the same folks, as opposed to being able to introduce different and varied guests that I think would be of interest to a diverse audience.

Now, when you talk about who should they talk to, I think, first and foremost, they have to get out of the "Who's the one black person?" [thinking]. It happens all the time. There's always the "black person" to go to when it comes to various issues. Here's what cracks me up: Anytime there's a race-based conversation, it's amazing how these shows can find three, four, five, six guests to talk on stuff. I always go, "Hmm, I wonder if those people can talk on other issues?" That happens. There's no one particular person, but I think there are a number of voices that could do very well in terms of expanding the line of thought.

You're an outspoken Christian and your wife is a Reverend. What's your take on President Obama supporting gay marriage, and how much do you think his stance will impact his reelection bid?
It was not a surprise. Remember in 1996, as I said on CNN during that week, the President signed a questionnaire when he was running for the state Senate, saying that he supported same-sex marriage. Then, in 2004 when he ran for the U.S. Senate, he then said he believed marriage was between a man and a woman. So, it wasn't a surprise that he took the position. The impact on the election is still unknown, because national polling data shows that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, yet when you have the referendums in 32 states, supporters of same-sex marriage are 0-for-32. It sort of says people are saying one thing in a poll but actually doing another thing when they actually go to vote. I think it's way too early to tell in terms of what the potential impact will be.

"The idea of being objective is a ridiculous one."

In March, you wore a hoodie in support of Trayvon Martin while hosting Washington Watch on TV One. Do you think journalists can openly support issues like the Martin tragedy and still remain objective?
The idea of being objective is a ridiculous one. Let's just be honest. Everybody -- I don't care who you are -- you have a viewpoint on something and on an issue. The difference is whether you chose to say something publicly, whether you chose to advance it... a whole different deal. I chose to wear the hoodie, because it was important beyond just the Trayvon Martin issue but to call attention to the issue of racial profiling. Also, you'll notice the hoodie that I wore was my college hoodie. I wanted folks to know this is what a college graduate looks like. This is what somebody looks like who is successful. I'm not a thug, never been a thug, but the problem we have in this country is you have people that have these perceptions and they continue to use these perceptions to drive their viewpoint. To me, that's dangerous.

What's your secret to developing your brand?
Know exactly who you are. The second thing is you have to have no fear in being able to work it. Companies today will fire you, not renew your contracts and when it's gone, it's gone. So you're left with what, saying that I use to be with so-and-so and I use to work with so-and-so? I love this scene from the movie The Insider where Al Pacino says, "Lowell Bergman, 60 Minutes, I wonder if my phone calls would get returned if I didn't have 60 Minutes after my name?"

When you build your own brand, people will still return your phone calls regardless of the call letters or where you actually work, because they now know you and they trust you in what you have to say and what you're doing. That, to me, is the most important aspect when it comes to building your brand. If companies are able to have multiple revenue streams and have their hands in multiple pools of money, then why shouldn't the people who actually work for those brands be able to do the exact same thing?

NEXT >> AvantGuildSo What Do You Do, Joel Hyatt, CEO and Co-Founder of Current TV?


Marcus Vanderberg is co-editor of FishbowlLA.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.



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